The Chicago Cubs aren’t off to the greatest of starts in the league, at 4-8, but they’ve looked much better than expected thus far in the young season. Perhaps the most important takeaway from what we’ve seen in the extremely limited sample size to date is the fact that their core appears to be rebounding and re-establishing itself, giving birth to new hope on the North Side.
Right in the middle of all of that is shortstop Starlin Castro. The former All Star fought off questions in the winter related to his future in Chicago, with superprospect Javier Baez poised to make his debut at the big league level at some point this summer. Coming off two consecutive years in which his performance declined, there were questions about whether Starlin Castro still figured into the big picture with the Chicago Cubs. It would appear at this point that those questions are no more.
The first couple of games in this young 2014 campaign were not Castro’s best by a long shot. He struggled to make contact and had a rough go of things in the field, with the latter representing a dark cloud hanging over Castro’s head throughout his career. That can likely be chalked up to a lack of play in the exhibition season, as Castro missed much of March with an injury.
With those first couple of games to round back into form, we’re seeing the Castro of old again for the Cubs. Not only does he appear to be improved from his last two disappointing seasons, but he may be taking his game to a level that we have yet to see from the 24-year-old shortstop. He’s hitting an even .300 on the year and getting on base at a .327 clip, with a pair of home runs and eight runs batted in to his credit. He’s hit primarily out of the sixth spot in the order, as Rick Renteria has sought RBI opportunities for him.
But to just what do we attribute Starlin Castro’s strong start? For one, a fresh start with a new manager and a fresh start in a season in which he doesn’t have constant voices around him trying to get him to make adjustments. Castro noted that this was an issue for him last year. The Cubs are letting him go up there and be aggressive, and he’s taken advantage of that. He’s going up hacking, swinging at over 52 percent of pitches that he’s seen to this point this year, easily the highest mark of his career. He has a higher line drive percentage, at up over 23 percent, that at any point in his career. He’s going to strike out, but his aggressiveness at the plate is leading to good, solid contact.
His fielding has improved as well. This is seen by more of an eye test than anything, as the numbers don’t indicate particularly good things to this point. His UZR is still in the negative, but he only has two errors on the stat sheet to date. As the season wears on, Castro’s defensive metrics should improve provided this type of play continues.
This is the type of Starlin Castro that the Cubs needed to see this year, and they needed to see it early. He’s clearly rounding back into form and could very well make a return to the Midsummer Classic as long as this play improves. Not only that, he’s forcing the Cubs to find a way to fit both himself and Javy Baez in the infield at some point this season, and that’s a very good problem for a rising ballclub to have.